Data Sheet—Sunday, September 18, 2016


Earlier this week, more than 4,000 people filled a large waterfront warehouse in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood for the startup extravaganza that is TechCrunch Disrupt.

The conference, hosted by tech news blog TechCrunch, is an annual reminder (at least for me) of the importance startup executives place on being seen by the right people and getting free publicity. After all, this year alone, hundreds of startups made a pilgrimage to the conference and paid at least $1,995 so they could occupy a small booth in the event’s big hall to show off their products. Hundreds more applied for a chance of being selected as one of the 23 that got to pitch their startup on the main stage to a panel of judges and a big audience.

And the continued appeal of the conference doesn’t end with small startups hoping to catch a break. Some big companies also show up with unstated goal of burnishing their image for innovation.

“Since we have the most technologically advanced hybrid, what better place to showcase this than TechCrunch Disrupt,” Nathan Kokes, marketing manager for Toyota’s new Prius Prime car, said when I asked why his company spent dearly to set up shop at a startup conference. In the middle of the exhibition hall, Toyota displayed the upcoming car, along with a two-part virtual reality demo simulating a drive in the Prius Prius.

In some ways, the conference has become a reflection of the industry just outside of the building where we stood and listened to presentations about everything from video gaming to cybersecurity. Startups with the marketing budget can score a big booth while others with a convincing pitch can be judged impressive enough to make it onstage. And for the rest? Well, it’s long days of standing near their dinky booths by comparison, chatting up reluctant attendees who walk by, and hoping to catch a journalist’s or investor’s eye.

In fact, Mike Judge, the creator of HBO’s tech industry parody Silicon Valley, said on stage on Monday that a visit to the conference in 2013 as part of his research for the show made Disrupt an undeniable cultural element to both ridicule and celebrate.

“It was just perfect for our show,” he said.

Kia Kokalitcheva


This is the Startup Sunday edition of Data Sheet,Fortune’s daily tech newsletter, edited by reporter Kia Kokalitcheva. You may reach me via Twitter, email, or an entirely new platform that your startup developed. Feedback welcome.

Everyone's Talking About

Uber. This week the ride-hailing company finally debuted its self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. Now, some riders will find themselves in a self-driving car (with a human driver in the front seat for safety) when they request a ride through UberX. Of course, it's still early and Uber's cars have much to learn, hence the need for safety drivers. (Uber blog) (New York Times)

Unicorn Watch

Airbnb wants to get the real estate industry on board with home-sharing. Airbnb is experimenting with letting building owners and landlords get a cut of their tenants' earnings through home-sharing. (Fortune)

Lyft makes bold transportation predictions. Lyft co-founder and president John Zimmer predicts that by 2025, private car ownership will "all but end" in major U.S. cities because of self-driving cars. (Medium) (Fortune)

The Honest Company could be joining Unilever. The maker of "green" products like diapers and cleaning supplies co-founded by Jessica Alba is reportedly in acquisition talks with Unilever for a deal valued at more than $1 billion . (Wall Street Journal)

The Week in Startups

Anonymous Messaging App Whisper Raising New Funds (Fortune)

Instacart's CEO Dispels Misconceptions About the Grocery Delivery Startup (Fortune)

Wheelwell Wants To Be The New Online Hub For Car Parts and Accessories (Fortune)

Neighborhood Social Network Nextdoor Is Moving to the U.K. Next (Fortune)

GitLab Wants to Simplify Corporate Software Development (Fortune)

Meet the startup That Two of Google’s Top Self-Driving Engineers Left to Create (Recode)

Sequoia Is Leading a $20 Million Investment in Dia&Co (Recode)

AngelList Braces for Rainy Days as Startup Seed Funding Falls (Bloomberg)

With a New CEO, Y Combinator Will Wind Down Fellowships and Start a MOOC (TechCrunch) (Y Combinator blog)

Autonomous Driving Startup Will Ship a $999 Add-On by the End of This Year (TechCrunch)

Words of Wisdom

"Trust is the number one thing you sell as a cloud company. The best way to deliver on trust and to show that companies should trust you […] is to become a public company." — Jeff Lawson, co-founder and CEO of Twilio, on why his company chose to go public. (Fortune)

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